By Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press on October 12, 2017.
TORONTO – A Toronto family is warning about the dangers of using home-rental websites after finding their house trashed and their belongings destroyed.
Daniel Habashi and Andrea Van Leeuwen say their two boys still ask if their home is safe after returning from a trip to New York to find treasured heirlooms gone, a piggy bank emptied, and beloved toys ruined.
The nightmare began when the family rented out their century-old Victorian house on the website Kid & Coe back in July. It’s an Airbnb-like service that caters to families.
Habashi says they believed they were renting to a young couple with a toddler, but later learned the renter had used fraudulent credit card information to host a raucous party.
They estimate damages to the house and the value of stolen property total $100,000. They are demanding compensation from Kid & Coe in a lawsuit filed earlier this week in New York, which also seeks punitive damages.
A spokeswoman for Kid & Coe says from Copenhagen that the case “is truly horrifying” but that homeowners are responsible for securing their own insurance.
Van Leeuwen admits they didn’t have adequate coverage, but insists the company should cover the costs of restoring their home.
“The (renters) ransacked our home, they emptied drawers out, cleared out closets, they used our own luggage to sort through all our belongings to determine what to take, what to sell,” Van Leeuwen, a Kid & Coe customer for three years, said Thursday.
“They even got away with a 50-inch TV – things you’d think someone would notice walking out of your house.”
Van Leeuwen says they had been big fans and early adopters of the family-friendly site, which specializes in connecting travellers with homes stocked with kid supplies like sippy cups, safety gates and cribs.
And so she was especially distressed to find her children’s toys broken, and their books apparently burned by cigarettes.
Ever since, she says her four- and five-year-old sons have been “highly distressed.”
“I can still smell the hint of the smoke that was in the home, it’s a constant reminder for me of what has happened in the home as well as our son just asking questions – asking if he’s safe, asking if his stuff is OK,” she says.
Kid & Coe spokeswoman Laura Hall said the company is taking the concerns seriously.
“This is truly, truly horrifying, what’s happened to Dan and Andrea,” said Hall, adding the company has stepped up security measures since July.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it right.”
Hall described Kid & Coe as a small business with about 1,300 clients in more than 50 countries. That includes 20 properties in Canada. She said the four-year-old company has never offered an insurance product but has been working for two years on adding one for users.
“Obviously with this situation we know that this is something that people want and expect and if we can offer it we’d like to.”
Habashi says they learned something was wrong July 22, the day after the guest checked in.
They were visiting New York when a neighbour emailed a noise complaint that evening. Early the next morning, Habashi noticed several alerts on his mobile phone reporting smoke in the house.
They called a security company to investigate, and it discovered eight adults sleeping in the home. They were evicted, and a relative filed a police report.
When the family returned the next day, Habashi was stunned by what he saw.
“Every single nook and cranny and corner of the place (was) just torn apart. For days you’re still finding things you didn’t think of,” he says, pointing to his son’s emptied piggy bank as being especially upsetting.
“It was the blatant disrespect of our children’s property and our home and…. that sense of brutal violation just breaks your heart.”
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